William Burrell

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Written and credited to Peter Cook of the Kent Messenger

HE COULD have come right out of a Victorian crime novel. William Burrell, who lived at Horsley Road, Rochester, was an old fashioned detective who came up the hard way.

Born in Wouldham, where he attended the local school, Burrell joined the Metropolitan Police Force in 1888. Stationed at Whitechapel, he was given the grizzly task of removing the bodies of women murdered by Jack the Ripper.

It was after he transferred to Paddington that he achieved fame for his part in solving the infamous Muswell Hill Murder. This took place in 1896. Henry Smith, a 79-year old retired engineer was brutally battered to death at his home in the wealthy North London suburb. Smith was rumoured to be a miser who stored large sums of money in his home. To protect himself he had set up guns in his garden with trip wires to trigger them should an intruder attempt to gain access. Clearly the system had failed. He had been dead several days before police broke into his house and found him bound with strips of torn up blanket. He had been battered about the head and his safe opened. Two pocket-knives and a toy lantern were found next to the body.

Detective William Burrell was quickly on the case. He suspected a habitual burglar named Albert Milsom, who had disappeared from the area. It was known that Milsom was an associate of another burglar Henry Fowler, who had a reputation for violence. Burrell discovered that the younger brother-in-law of Albert Milsom, Henry Miller, had a toy lantern similar to that found at the murder scene. He decided to operate a sting. The lantern found next to the murder victim was placed in a nearby candy store frequented by Miller. The lad recognised his property, claimed it and was nabbed.

Tracking down the murderers proved difficult. They had joined a travelling fair, Fowler working as a circus strong man. They were eventually run to ground at Bath, where Milsom gave himself up meekly, but Fowler fought like a demon and had to be clubbed into submission.

At their trial Milsom confessed which angered Fowler, who leaped on him in the dock and tried to strangle him. The authorities feared a similar incident at their hanging, which took place at Newgate Prison on June 9 1896. They resolved the issue by placing William Seaman, the murderer of a Whitechapel pawnbroker and his housekeeper, between the two men, as the stood on the scaffold. Before the trapdoor opened, Seaman is alleged to have said: "Well this is the first time in my life I've ever been a bloody peacemaker."

As for William Burrell, he was eventually made Divisional Detective Inspector at Albany Street Police Station, London. He is credited with bringing 14 murderers to justice. During the First World War he tracked down spies. When he settled back in Rochester he continued to work as a private enquiry agent. He died in 1939.


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